While the industry so small, any regulation can be done properly, before the money and interest in the sector makes it difficult for the government to get anything done.
Space tourism has been in the news a lot lately though, of course, it’s been around for quite some time. As a recent CNN article rightly highlights, Dennis Tito visited the ISS in April 2001, long before the current flurry of billionaire industry. The difference this time round is that Bezos, Branson and Musk are hoping to expand their businesses to make space tourism at least somewhat affordable – in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollar range, rather than millions. Analysts have already looked on with concern at what sending tourists into space will mean when it comes to legal jurisdiction.
The issue of legal jurisdiction in space has already been put under the media microscope. In October 2020, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk declared that Earth laws would not apply to Mars, a statement that makes sense – in terminology, at least. It exposed, however, the lack of clear direction as to how space can be regulated. There have been efforts in this regard – since 2018, the Department of Commerce, recognizing the latent economic potential of space tourism, have been petitioning for a new regulatory body, the Office of Commercial Space, to help regulate space travel and tourism. With space companies now racing to provide the first tourism services, there are signs that regulation efforts are getting off the ground.
In October 2020, the FAA issued new rules that would streamline the current space-borne regulatory environment, according to Reuters. Key to these new changes were rules to ensure that Department of Defense rockets and military satellites would not collide with passenger or tourism based objects, and are in response to the view of SpaceX and other companies aiming to undertake 100 launches per year. However, analysts have noted flaws in these new rules, and the fact that they only cover the number of physical launches expected each year, and not the myriad of other issues associated with spaceflight.
Ready for takeoff?
In a recent analysis by POLITICO, question marks were raised over whether Washington DC is ready for the new space race. Murmurs from within industry question whether regulation is right at this time – with the industry relatively small, regulations could create artificial barriers to business long before they are ready to be put up. However, the counter-argument is that with the industry so small, any regulation can be done properly, before the money and interest in the sector makes it difficult for the government to get anything done. Regulation is certainly needed. There are so many question marks over the state of space tourism and what it means for those involved that it can’t be ignored.
What progress will be made is uncertain. As with many regulatory efforts, they only step up at the last minute. As more flights blast off and more interest is seen from those looking to experience a look at space from beyond orbit, except legislators to move.